Editor's note: ESPN football analyst Tedy Bruschi will chronicle his climb up the 19,000-foot Mount Kilimanjaro (May 13-19) for ESPNBoston.com. Bruschi, former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis and four injured military service members are climbing the mountain to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
The journey begins.
On Monday, I flew to New Jersey to meet the group headed to Mount Kilimanjaro. The plan is to tour Ground Zero on Tuesday morning, meeting some of the Wounded Warriors and then to take a tour of the World Trade Center construction site. Then we'll be flying to Amsterdam, and ultimately Tanzania.
When it was announced that I'd be making the climb, my longtime friend Randy "Zip" Pierce contacted me and asked if I needed any help. Zip, who is blind, does things for 2020 VisionQuest, which is a 501(c)3 charity, and he is on a mission to climb all 48 of the 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire. I think he has 16 of them on his schedule this summer. So he kind of knows a thing or two about climbing.
I immediately called him back and said I needed help. All I had been doing was going to the local high school, running the bleachers, doing the Stairmaster in my basement with my hiking boots on. I did Blue Hill once with a weighted vest on, but it's tough to simulate a 19,300-foot-high peak.
So a couple of weeks ago, I met Zip up in New Hampshire. We climbed Piper Mountain, then Whiteface, then back to Piper. We climbed up Belknap Mountain and then went over to Gunstock. One of the biggest things was that it helped me get used to my gear. I had never put on a Camelback before, with all the straps and the drinking apparatus, the hiking poles. I was every bit of a rookie, so Zip showed me the ropes. That definitely got me more comfortable going to Kilimanjaro. It's a huge mountain compared to what we did, but I still feel more comfortable that I got the background with Zip.
I go way back with Zip. He's a huge fan of the New England Patriots and we got to know each other from what seems like the first day I stepped on the field. I've developed relationships with fans over the years and Zip was one of the first; I think it was my first training camp. Zip and his group once started Bruschi's Brew, which was 13 versions of homemade beer, and they'd always send me some. Our birthdays fall around the same time, so we always contact each other at that time of year.
When he decided that he wanted to climb all 48 of the mountains in New Hampshire last year, he asked me to go with him. I couldn't make it. Then when he heard about Kilimanjaro, he joked about it: "What, none of my mountains are good enough for you?"
He said if I needed help to let him know, and seeing him climb the mountains, it's absolutely amazing. For someone who can't see at all, going up the mountain with The Mighty Quinn, his seeing-eye dog as his guide, it's inspirational. I was behind him at times, and he's maintaining a good pace, and I closed my eyes and tried to walk up some of the terrain he was walking up. I took about two or three steps and had to open my eyes. It's amazing what he's able to do with The Mighty Quinn.
So as we prepare for our journey, it is exciting. I've never done anything like this before. I've never been to Africa, and when we get there, we're going to acclimate for a day and there is a one-day safari. I've talked to people who did it and they say it's an experience of a lifetime.
A big part of this for me is doing it with the Wounded Warriors. We'll be making the climb with four of them -- two have prosthetic legs and one is visually impaired. All have unique stories and I'm looking forward to meeting them and learning about their experiences -- Ben, Brian, Nancy and Mike. The Wounded Warriors experience helps veterans reintegrate into society. They leave a certain way and come back a different way, and that's something to get used to.
For them to climb a mountain like Kilimanjaro, it's inspiring. They can prove to so many people that "I may not be what I used to be, but I can still conquer many of the challenges that are left to do in life."
Brian is a former middle linebacker and I'm looking forward to meeting him. Linebackers always seem to get along well.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th-anniversary team.